The visit of the Moldovan President Igor Dodon to Turkey risks becoming a new high-profile scandal.
On the eve of the New Year, the Moldovan delegation, which included President Igor Dodon, Prime Minister Ion Chicu, the Governor of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah, as well as a number of other officials, arrived at the invitation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Over two days, representatives of the Republic of Moldova held a number of official and business contacts, and a meeting of Moldovan and Turkish leaders took place. Following the talks, the parties signed four interstate agreements related to the mutual recognition of driver licenses, the creation of cultural centers in Turkey and Moldova, etc.
Actually, an ordinary visit would not have caused much excitement if not the subsequent press conference of Erdogan for the Turkish media. Within it, among other things, aside from thanking Moldova for extraditing the teachers of the Orizont lyceums network, also announced plans to transfer these educational institutions to the control of the Turkish educational foundation Maarif.
Useless saying that, the Turkish leader pressed the “hot-button subject”. The scandal with expelled teachers in the fall of 2018 literally stirred up the whole Moldovan society. Then, we recall, the Moldovan special services officers unceremoniously detained teachers right on the way to work and took them on a special flight to Turkey, where they immediately went to jail. In a press release, the Information and Security Services of the Republic of Moldova accused teachers of “having links with an Islamist group conducting illegal activities in many countries.” However, few people were satisfied with this explanation. It was clear to everyone that the real reason for the extradition was Orizont’s connection to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Turkish authorities consider the coup organizer in Turkey in the summer of 2016.
The case with Turkish teachers turned out to be a big loss for the then-ruling democrats (who hastened to disavow it, accusing the SIS of self-will) and for Moldova generally. International human rights organizations have explicitly stated that it is about kidnapping. A lot of criticism came from the institutions of the European Union, and the ECHR subsequently recognized the actions of the authorities as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is interesting that this case hurt Igor Dodon, who at that time did not really have levers of power. This coincidence was extremely unsuitable for him since teachers deportation occurred shortly before Erdogan’s visit who, along with Dodon, was to open the building of the presidential administration, repaired with Turkish money. It is not surprising that the immediately appeared version of extradited teachers simply accomplished the “payment shot” for the head of state’s office restoration.
Dodon probably didn’t really want to return to this scandal, but before his visit to Turkey, he nevertheless promised to talk with the Turkish president about the fate of one of the Turkish teachers expelled from Moldova, and about his punishment that had to be upgraded. However, after his visit, the Moldovan leader did not mention it – and most likely would have preferred to avoid this topic if not the frankness of his Turkish counterpart.
Due to New Year holidays, the new scandal with Orizont lyceums has not yet gone into the masses as the previous one. But the Turkish president’s statements on the transfer of institutions did not go completely unnoticed – the right-wing forces quickly picked up the topic. PAS deputies have already sent a corresponding request to the Minister of Education, Culture and Research Corneliu Popovici, asking among other things about the legitimacy of the procedure for resubordinating of lyceums to the Turkish foundation.
There is no doubt that this issue will continue to be in the foreground of Moldavan socio-political life, and any authorities’ actions towards the Orizont lyceums network will not remain unnoticed. Another thing is that it will be extremely problematic for Chisinau to “cop out” the Turkey requests.
Ankara is gradually becoming one of the most important trade and economic partners of Moldova outside the European Union, and is also ready to increase its investments in the republic. Turkish business is actively “entering” the Republic of Moldova: it participates in the construction of the large-scale Arena Chisinau complex and in road building (up to 60 million euros). And this is only the beginning – the Moldovan authorities are counting on Turkish investments in agriculture and on Moldovan goods in the Turkish market share increase.
Judging by the increased bilateral contacts, Turkey plans to further strengthen its position and influence in Moldova, various financial “injections” in the country’s economy including. But, of course there’s a “price” for everything, for example such deals that entail great reputation costs for the ruling authorities.
However, it seems that the current Moldovan leadership has little choice. This year, it will need a lot of resources to pay for pre-election populism, which can be received only from abroad. But given the possible suspension of macro-financial assistance from the EU and loans from international funds, the choice of financial donors remains extremely small. In this regard, cooperation with Turkey seems to be one of the few promising options, and, apparently, in the eyes of Chisinau, Turkish funds outweigh all the associated risks.
However, there is the opinion that the president and his team so far clearly underestimate the potential damage from the situation with Orizont, that the opposition may easily use to justify both: previous accusations against Dodon and the appearance of new ones, which is especially critical in the year of the presidential election. This does not mean that investments received will be able to compensate the image damage done to the Moldovan leader – especially in conditions when his own rating is almost equal to that of his main competitor, Maya Sandu.
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